Don't let "Morphotic" go unnoticed
KC Fringe Festival
I understand that anything you label "Kafkaesque" isn't going to appeal to a lot of people, but Butcher Block's reconstruction of Franz Kafka's life is a fantastic performance piece done in an expressive style that is rarely seen on Kansas City stages.
It's a shame that more people aren't seeing it. Ten actors on stage performing for six people in the audience isn't very welcoming for this group from Las Vegas (which just held its very first fringe festival).
Shawn Hackler's script is polished, studied and dense - highly intellectual. The ensemble is tight, well choreographed, and offers characters with distinct personalities, which is impressive in a play this abstract. Cynthia Vodovoz plays Kafka as a wholly physical creation, using every muscle of her body to display the character's monstrous condition. This is solid, serious theatre.
That said, "Morphotic" is a heady chunk of brain candy that requires considerable concentration. It will challenge any audience member, esp. if they're not familiar with the life or work of Kafka, which I suspect is most people (including myself). Then again, it's a play for people who want that challenge. The expressionistic story doesn't follow an obvious thread, and confusingly fragments between real events in Kafka's life and his literary creations. Rather than offer a standard bio-drama, it's more like crawling into Kafka's head.
What I got out of it was a powerful impression of persecution in Nazi Germany, when Jews were considered vermin to be destroyed (which Kafka takes literally). It has the feel of a dream - the subconscious made real - perhaps the only way to rationalize a world where the Holocaust is possible and you are the target of totalitarian aggression.
I know this sounds like a deadly serious affair that reeks of academics, but "Morphotic" isn't so much pretentious as it is obtuse. There's plenty of humor, but it's buried deep in East-European absurdism that finds irony in the worst circumstances. Several modern touches help alleviate the earnestness, and although I felt it could have gone more in the direction of avant garde physical theatre, it strikes the right balance between real emotion and expressionistic presentation.
My only real complaint is the constant soundtrack - lovely music, but with the speakers placed between the actors and audience it was doubly difficult to focus on the dialog. Then again, perhaps making it more challenging was the point?
Certainly there's still some people out there who think anything "Kafkaesque" is cool. They really need to check this out and make it worthwhile for Butcher Block to come back next year.
read the review at KC Stage